My Journey with the VASA Swim Ergometer: In-Depth Review

My Journey with the
VASA Swim Ergometer: In-Depth Review

My journey with the VASA Ergometer

My journey with the VASA Ergometer

By Julia Galan

As a coach and a competitive swimmer, I had always been familiar with the Vasa brand name, whose products are to be found on pool decks across the United States and around the world. And yet I had never had the opportunity to incorporate Vasa’s equipment into my training routine…until this year.

When Swimspire partnered with Vasa, Inc. in October 2014, we decided that if I was going to be an independent consultant for the company, it would make sense to familiarize myself with their premier swimming product – the Vasa Swim Ergometer. Vasa prides itself on making products that yield results and improving their products through feedback received from users. Along the same lines of thinking, we thought why not share my honest experiences with the Erg – including both the positives and the negatives? Without further ado, the Vasa team sent over an Erg, and I was all set!

For the past three months, I have been posting weekly blog posts chronicling my experience with the Swim Ergometer. From assembly to trying out two machines in one, it has been a very positive journey! I’m putting all of my separate blog posts into one in-depth review for those of you who are considering purchasing an Erg – or for those who have just made that purchase!

Assembly

Assembling the Erg

Assembling the Erg

I have to admit I trembled with trepidation when the three large boxes arrived at my doorstep. I’ve never been one for assembling anything, let alone a large training machine like the Erg. And yet I was determined to give it a go on my own!

As it turns out, the assembly is fairly straightforward. In addition to a clear instruction manual, Vasa provides you with a full set of tools needed to assemble the Erg. Be sure to follow the instructions to the letter (including unpacking the boxes in a specific order), and putting the Erg together will be a relatively smooth and efficient process. Note that you may need someone to help you during certain parts of the assembly. Check out my detailed blog post on assembling the Erg for more information.

First Steps and Resources

Before I began working extensively on the Swim Ergometer, I decided to first familiarize myself with the swim bench itself and inform myself about the variety of ways I could use the Erg to improve my swimming. Vasa provides a set of resources, including an instruction manual and videos, which were my first source of guidance.

The instruction manual provided excellent guidelines on how to use the Erg for butterfly, breaststroke and freestyle, as well as instructions for paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing and Nordic single and double poling. There are also separate options for stand up paddle, demonstrating the variety of sports that the Erg can help develop and improve. The manual also offered a variety of different strengthening exercises and workouts you could try, as well as some drills.

Vasa also has a variety of video links and workouts on the Resources page of the website or on the Vasa YouTube channel for free. The videos were of varying degrees of helpfulness for me and provided plenty of different ideas presented by coaches on how you can best use the Swim Erg or the Trainer, as well as specific drills you can perform on both machines.  I liked the variety of drills you could try with the Erg, especially single arm with non-stroking arm at side, or half pull. I think that will help ensure that workouts on the Erg are never boring!

Check out my blog post on first steps for a more detailed review.

Using the Vasa Swim Ergometer

The Erg is a great dryland tool to supplement your swimming.

The Erg is a great dryland tool to supplement your swimming.

As I mentioned earlier, this was my first experience using any of Vasa’s equipment. And although I’ve done a variety of dryland exercises in the past, none of them were swim-specific or replicated the swim like the Erg does. In using the Ergometer, I feel that I’m making very productive use of my time. Knowing that what I am doing is not merely strengthening my body in general, but is also directly helping to improve my swimming strength, helps give my Ergometer workouts an additional sense of purpose.

Maintaining stroke technique is a top priority for me, as both a swimmer and a coach. Preserving my technique while simultaneously strengthening my body through the dryland training that the Erg emphasizes has been my main focus. I have learned how important it is to create an Erg workout that includes a variety of drills, full stroke, and even some strength training exercises such as these. Being able to create these types of workouts really maximized my use of the Swim Ergometer, and helped make using the machine a challenging and interesting experience.

As I continued to get comfortable with the Swim Erg and watched more of the video resources available, I was able to get more creative with my Erg workouts. Since October, I’ve been using the Ergometer nearly every single day, starting out with just 100 meters of basic freestyle and some butterfly, and increasing to about 800 meters total so far. I’ve incorporated drills such as half pull and single arm drills, both breathing on and breathing away from the stroking side, and created sets that would mix drills and full stroke. For example, I would do a set of 10x half pulls on each arm, followed by 20 strokes of freestyle, then a set of single arm strokes, followed by 20 strokes of butterfly. I also began experimenting with tricep kickbacks that I practiced by standing next to the machine and using the paddles to perfect my finish and simultaneously strengthen the triceps and forearms.

Recently, I’ve also incorporated a new drill set into my Ergometer workouts that really helps to strengthen each of the key phases of the pull. The drill set consists of 10 one arm half pulls, 10 regular single arm strokes, 10 finish-specific pulls (like tricep kickbacks, except lying on the bench). This cycle can be repeated a few times on one arm before switching to the other arm.

So far, I’ve been completing these drills using the Swim Ergometer, but I could also potentially use the Trainer webbing strap accessories that can be attached to the Erg.

As swimmers, it is important to balance our time in the pool with quality dryland work that incorporates resistance training. The fact that I can adjust the damper door on the Ergometer to increase or decrease the resistance as needed is a huge plus. I have experimented with increasing the resistance when I am doing exercises that isolate specific groups of muscles (tricep kickbacks, for example) and decreasing resistance when doing longer sets of full stroke.

Getting in the Pool and Adjustments

When I first jumped into the pool after those consistent workouts on the Ergometer, I immediately felt a difference. I had an increased ability to execute the early vertical forearm (high elbow catch) and felt that my pull was much more powerful. My times improved in practice as well by about five seconds on average, specifically in the 200 freestyle and backstroke. I felt like I was moving through the water at a much faster rate than before.

Despite the positives, I did have some initial adjustments to work on, which really emphasized the importance of maintaining proper posture on the Ergometer, just as you would be mindful of your stroke technique in the water.

First of all, I noticed that I started to have the tendency to swim flatter in the water, without the sufficient reach or rotation from the core that I needed to maintain my swimming technique. In order to maintain the rotation that is characteristic of my freestyle stroke – and allows me to maintain a high elbow recovery in the water – I have focused on driving my opposing hip into the bench while initiating the catch phase of the pull with the other arm. Apparently, you can swim freestyle on the bench with a rolled towel or yoga mat placed lengthwise underneath of you to promote increased body roll, but so far I haven’t found that necessary. Training on a swim bench necessarily limits the amount of rotation you could achieve in the water, and much of the emphasis is on developing the strength of the pull. However, it’s great to know that I can activate some of the same core muscles that I would need for rotation in the water while using the bench. I also make sure to adjust my recovery on the Erg to match with the amount of rotation I am able to perform while on the bench. Since I am not able to get the full rotational experience, I lower my elbows slightly, while still keeping the elbow bent to get as close to the normal recovery as possible without injuring my shoulders.

I am also mindful of extending my arm fully and finishing completely during the stroke cycle while using the Swim Erg. This allows me to not only emphasize the rotational aspect of the freestyle, but also to focus on gaining that distance per stroke that is so important in the water.

My head position while using the Vasa Swim Ergometer has also been adjusted. I had previously been tucking my chin, keeping the head down, while pulling. In the water, I prefer to have my head positioned forward, since it helps balance my stroke. To avoid falling into the habit of swimming with a flatter stroke and the head looking down, I lift my head slightly while using the Erg, so that it is just in line with my spine. This avoids neck and upper back pain, while simultaneously promoting better position on the Erg and in the water.

A final adjustment I have made to my pool workouts is to increase my focus on kicking sets, in order to balance the increased strength in my pull with an increased strength in my kick.

Using the Power Meter

Power Meter on the Erg

Power Meter on the Erg

One of the main features of the Vasa Swim Ergometer is the Power Meter located at the front of the machine. The Power Meter is an excellent tool for keeping on the right track and monitoring my progress. There are two modes on the Power Meter – basic mode and stroke mode, which measures power and stroke length. I’ve used the Power Meter to time how long my workouts have been taking on the Ergometer, and how many meters I’ve logged.

During my full stroke sets, I’ve also occasionally used the basic mode on the Power Meter to track how many strokes per minute I’ve taken and how much power my stroke generates. For example, I completed time trials, measuring time and stroke power to be able to make comparisons each week and chart my progress. In “stroke mode” of the Power Meter, I noted my time, the number of strokes I took per minutes, and the average power for both my left and my right arm. My left arm has always been the weaker of the two in swimming, and I usually balance that out with more kick on that side. With the Ergometer, I don’t have the ability to use my kick, so measuring the power of my stroke showed more of the left side imbalance. In swimming, we want the stroke to be as symmetrical and balanced as possible, so I need to work more on building strength in the left arm to balance out with the right. This means more single arm sets and strength training exercises – both in the pool and on the Erg – using the left arm. This is where the time trial comparisons can be very useful. Over the next few weeks, I could repeat the 100 meter distance and see whether the focus on building up the left arm leads to more overall symmetry in my stroke.

One aspect I was also curious to try out using the Power Meter was interval training. You can actually pre-set a distance and specify how long you want to rest in between each set. I decided to start out with 4x100s at a 45 second rest interval. The process of setting up the interval is relatively simple – I set the distance at 100 and the rest time at 45 seconds. Once I started up, the Power Meter began to monitor the distance and after completing the 100 meters, it counted down the rest interval. It will continue to do this until you have completed the desired number of sets.

The ability to perform interval training on the Ergometer is, in my opinion, just one more unique advantage to using this swim-specific machine.

Functional Training Exercises: The Trainer and the Erg in One Machine

What might be a lesser-known feature of the Swim Erg is the fact that it can actually serve as two machines in one. You may have heard of the Vasa Trainer before, and wondered what the difference is between the Trainer and the Erg, or which machine is better-suited for your needs. In a nutshell, the Trainer is often used for swimming-specific strength training, where you are pulling your body past your hands in a streamlined position. The Ergometer offers the ability to fine-tune swimming technique, adjust the resistance according to your needs, and use the Power Meter to measure stroke rate, time and distance. I always felt that one of the great features of the Trainer is the ability to perform a variety of strength training exercises and drills, and I had often looked at the variety of video resources available that seemed to use the Trainer as opposed to the Erg. What I did not initially realize, however, was that you can actually transform the Erg into a Trainer with the use of a webbing strap device. The straps are very easy to attach to the Ergometer and they allow you to pull your body past your hands, instead of pulling your hands past your body, as you would do with the Trainer.

Once I attached the webbing straps onto my Ergometer, I immediately looked up a few drills to try, as demonstrated by Coach Eric Neilsen on the VasaTrainer YouTube channel. The first drill I tried was the Double Arm Isometric Hold, which focuses on building strength at the catch, the pull phase and the finish of the stroke. For this drill, I used the included Forearm Cuffs, another new thing for me as I had previously only used the paddles and the handles. I also tried out the single arm catch with full rotation – essentially, what I would call single arm breathing away from the stroking side in the water. For this drill, I went back to using the paddles. I really appreciated this drill in that it allowed me to continue to work on rotating my core, as I would do in the water.

Using the Trainer webbing straps also allowed me to work on some additional strength training exercises. I focused on the following: Chest flys, seated lat rows, bicep curls and tricep extensions. I decided to limit myself to 1 set of 15 reps for each exercise, to see how my muscles felt and ensure that I wasn’t overexerting myself. I think it is very important to approach any new exercise slowly, whether you are using the Ergometer or just working out at the gym. As it turned out, I felt fine after doing the exercises so I will increase to two sets and then gradually work my way up. I’ve decided that I will alternate between one day of Erg work for technique and repetition and one day of Trainer work for strength training with the webbing straps. This is because I felt that I need both the strength training aspect and the technique work and power meter functions to monitor my stroke and my time and distance.  The very fact that I have a choice to alternate between what would normally be two machines is quite satisfying. I believe that both the Trainer and the Swim Ergometer have major advantages and to be able to use them both in one machine is not only economical, but perfectly suited to my needs as I continue my swimming training.

Results

I had a great experience with the Vasa Erg

I had a great experience with the Vasa Erg

I have had a great experience familiarizing myself with all of the Swim Erg features. Using the Swim Ergometer consistently has really helped my performance in the water and I feel that I am maximizing the benefits of the swim bench by using it properly and creatively. My technique is good, with the added benefit of a strengthened pull. I was also able to experience just how convenient this swim bench is for replicating swim-specific workouts on land when you don’t have easy access to a pool over the holidays!

My first major test was at a local swim meet. Out of three events – 200 free, 100 free, 100 back – all swum within an hour (very little rest and recovery in between events), I bettered my time in two out of three. I lowered my time by two seconds in the 200 free and by nearly a second in the 100 free from my previous bests at my last meet in October. Of course, the results can be attributed to a few different factors, including the increasing intensity of my pool workouts, but my Vasa Swim Ergometer workouts have without a doubt been a tremendous help in strengthening my pull and increasing my endurance.

I am really excited about how the Swim Erg has worked to increase my strength, translating directly to improved performances in the pool. The training doesn’t stop here for me, however. I’m looking forward to continuing to use the Ergometer and incorporating it into my weekly workout routine to build strength and fine-tune my swimming technique. I hope that my reviews have been helpful and that you will be able to experience the Vasa Swim Ergometer for yourself in the near future!

And, as a bonus, you can get $50 worth of accessories & upgrades with a Trainer or Erg purchase! Use code BONUS-SPIRE to get your discount!

 

 

 

 

 

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